PB at AOs, Two Medals at NCCs

The season ended today. Since I started writing this blog, I’ve been focused on building toward two goal races: 1500s at the AOs (the Athletics Ontario Open Championships) and the NCCs (the North America, Central America, and Caribbean World Masters Athletics Championships). On the advice of my club mate Simon, I was looking for a fast time at AOs, where I’d be up against a bunch of collegiate runners — and I was looking for a medal at NCCs, where I’d be racing masters runners my own age and trying not to get a particular time but to beat them. With lots of careful planning and lots of good advice like Simon’s, I achieved both my goals: a good time of 4:15 at AOs and a gold medal at NCCs. (As a nice bonus, I also got a bronze medal in a non-goal event, the 800m.)

The 1500 at AOs

Both of these meets ended up being dominated by extreme weather. I guess I should have seen that coming. It’s Toronto in the middle of July. It was super hot and there were thunderstorms, for both meets.

As I wrote in my last post, the leadup to AOs was memorable mostly for the “killer workout” in which I produced so much lactic acid that I vomited. That was my last real workout before the race, which went last Saturday at York University.

The weather was supposed to be bad: a high around 32 and likely thunderstorms. On my way up to York on the subway (thank you TTC for extending the line up there), a torrential downpour started. At Glencairn Station, I could see water flooding the platform. It seemed unlikely the meet would even happen. I recall being mildly relieved, because I wasn’t feeling well — I had a headache, which might have been a leftover from the lactic shock of Monday, and I thought I had a fever, which might have just been a sunburn, or nerves. But I kept going, and by the time I got to Pioneer Village station, the rain had stopped. When I checked in, they told me things were delayed by exactly one hour, so that I’d start at 6pm.

I forgot to take any pictures at AOs, so I’ll keep you entertained for now with this shot from the NCC 1500. Photo by Dave Albo.

There’s an indoor track right next to the outdoor track at York. This was very convenient, giving us a dry place to warm up. I met up with Jim inside, did my warmup, and tried to stay relaxed and cool.

When we finally went outside, the sun was somehow back out and it was unbelievably muggy. Definitely not ideal conditions for a PB. The little voice in my head was trying to give me excuses for taking it easy in the race. It’s hot, the race got delayed, you’re not feeling right. I tried to ignore it.

I had decided in advance that I would really go for it this race — that I’d try to run even splits of 67, for 4:10 if all went well. Then I read a bunch of advice about pacing 1500s, all of which said that negative splits were the way to do it. I’d positive-splitted all my races to that going, going out in 65 in Hamilton, so it seemed worth a shot. I thought I’d go 68, 67, 67, and try to kick home in 65.

Then the race happened. The gun went, and I tried to run my straight tangent, and a runner I first met in London did exactly the same thing he did to me there: mercilessly elbowed me right to the curb. It was totally unreasonable but I wasn’t about to start a fight. So I started out boxed in behind three Ottawa Lions. I figured it wasn’t a big deal: I was trying to go out slow anyway. So around I went, in exactly 68 seconds.

On the second lap, I tried to pick it up a bit, but again got stuck behind those same Ottawa Lions, who were running three abreast — defying all logic, aerodynamic or otherwise — and blocking the two inside lanes. I had no choice but to try to get around them, and the opportunity first presented itself on the bend onto the home stretch. Of course, as soon as I moved, one of them sped up and blocked me again. It was an annoying lap filled with halting accelerations and running more meters than necessary. It was another 68.

On lap three, I really pushed. Only one Lion was left, and he felt me accelerating and pushed as well. We passed another couple of runners, each time wasting some effort. Once again: 68.

I tried to slowly build my pace until 200 to go and then pushed as hard as I could. I felt great and it seemed like I was flying. The Lion outkicked me but I wasn’t far behind. The clock wasn’t running when I finished, but I figured I’d at least come in below 4:15. Alas, that wasn’t the case: my time was 4:15.48.

I was pretty annoyed about this for a few hours, until I managed to remind myself that 4:10 was always a fictitious and deliberately ambitious goal time designed to get me to run hard and hopefully go under 4:15. I hadn’t done that — and I hadn’t run the 4:11 I’d dreamed of at the start of the season — but I had run a 4:15, which is precisely what I’d thought I was reasonably capable of, if all went well, back when I was planning my season.

The 800 at NCCs 🥉

Getting into position in the first bend.

I still think I can run a faster 1500, with the right field, weather, and health. But 4:15 was pretty good. I was happy with it, and ready to turn from PBs to medals.

In the week leading up to NCCs, I did a last “killer workout”: an 800m-specific speed workout. It was a 600m at 800 pace, followed by 2 minutes rest, followed by 200m at 800 pace. I was pretty surprised at how well it went. I split 57 (whoa) on the 600, coming in in a more pedestrian 1:29. Still, that’s pretty fast. I locked up completely on the final 200, but still ran it in 30 seconds. So, 1:59. I was very excited about this until Mike told me, “That’s good for about a 2:04” — only one second better than my one and only 800m race.

Anyway, it was a great final workout, since my next race — on Friday — was the 800m. I was seeded fifth of six in my heat, behind a bunch of 2:01 and 2:03 runners. My hope going in was that they would run worse than their seed times and I’d prove Mike wrong and blast out a heroic 1:59. My goal was to somehow snag a medal.

The story of the day is much like that of the AOs. The race was at York. It was insanely hot and humid. It didn’t rain this time, but in addition to being 32 degrees and sunny at the start, it was also very windy. I consoled myself with the reminder that none of this mattered, because we’d all be running in the same conditions, and time wasn’t important, only placings.

Feeling awesome at 400m. Definitely the best running pic of me so far. Thank you, Allan Moore of Caught in Action Sports Photography.

I was once again feeling very nervous at the start. The 800m is a nerve-wracking event, where tiny mistakes turn into massive time losses. Or so Peter Coe says again and again in his 8/15 bible, Winning Running, which I almost certainly read too many times before running this race, no doubt contributing my nerves. In any case, I was immediately thrown by the information that we were going to have a “waterfall start,” like in a 1500, instead of starting in our own lanes, as is usual in 800s. Much of my Peter Coe advice — he’s got three or four pages of strategy just for the first 100m — would be wasted.

Anyway, when the gun went, I charged out into a Coe-approved position: third position, behind the two leaders (one of them was in the M30 category, so I wasn’t competing again him: I was effectively in Coe’s ideal position, second). I was really happy with my first 400: I crossed in 60 or 61, I was tucked right in behind the second runner, getting a great aerodynamic position, and I was feeling very relaxed. This continued right up until 600m, when I still found myself in the same position, still feeling great… and starting to wonder where all those 2:01 and 2:03 guys were.

Adios, awesomeness. The finishing straight.

Then a gap started to open up behind the leader, who started to kick like crazy. Then my club mate Simon, who was watching from the 200m start, yelled, “Close the gap!! You’ve got to go with them!!” I went into a bit of a panic mode and tried to kick with them. Coming out of the bend, I was no longer feeling good. I could feel that I was starting to “tie up” already. And then two guys passed me on my right. So that’s where they were — right behind me! The last 50m were incredibly painful. I totally tied up and honestly almost stopped running completely. I just couldn’t get my arms or legs moving. But I did eventually cross the line — much to my surprise, in (very slight) a PB of 2:05.66.

Laughing as I crossed the line, having already passed through the stage of anguish in the previous 50m.

I was a pretty embarrassing finish. My race was the last of the 800s, since they run from the older age groups to the younger, and mine was the youngest at M30-39 — so all of my club mates were there to watch me tie up in the last 50m, including a few national and international champions in the 800. Naturally, they did a bit of gentle ribbing. Jay said my gait could only be described as chicken-like. Coach Paul said he’d never before seen anyone run with a negative stride length. And so on. (Club mate Tony did have some nice words, congratulating me for having the guts to really go for it, which is a prerequisite for totally die at the end. I appreciated that positive take.)

Never had a damp J-cloth or a tiny styrofoam cup of water been more welcome.

But it was also a really instructive race. I’m pretty proud of how I attacked the course: I went out hard, I ran with the leaders, I ran ahead of my seed time, I ran for a medal — and I ran really well for the first 600m. Then I totally cracked. The people who gapped me at 600 finished in 2:00. I lost five seconds in 200m. But imagine if I hadn’t totally tied up there? I think what happened was that my body was doing something it’s not used to doing — using its anaerobic energy system — and just froze up. But if I can train myself to use that system — get my body used to “acid buffering,” as Peter Coe calls it — I could run a 2:00 or a 2:01. And I think it’s absolutely reasonable to think I can train this system, especially since this was only my second ever 800. This gives me something to work toward next season.

Also, although I finished fourth in my age category, I did end up with a medal — because the guy who finished first was from Guyana, a non-NCC country. (Although it is in South America, Guyana is culturally linked to the Caribbean — but it’s not in the NCC.) So technically I was third. After all that suffering, I wasn’t going to quibble. A slightly embarrassing race, but a bronze medal. I’ll take it.

The 1500 at NCCs 🥇

The 1500 was the race I was really aiming for. I’d been training for 1500s all season, I’d actually run a few, and I’d started to feel like I was getting a hang for them.

I took it really easy on Saturday. I watched all five hours of the Tour de France broadcast, leaving the house only to watch club mate Phil win gold in the M50 5,000 in mid-40s humidex temperatures. I got a good sleep, watched the Tour again this morning (so far, this is the best TdF I’ve ever watched, and I’ve watched a lot), and headed to Varsity Stadium for noon. (The Thursday-Friday events were at York; the Saturday-Sunday events were at U of T.)

All bunched up in the first lap.

I was feeling much less stressed about the 1500. Partly this was because I knew I had a better shot at a good placing. I was tied for the top seed in my age category, and my seed was 4:20, five seconds slower than I’d run at AOs. The tactics would come from the fact that my M35 race was being run together with the M40s, a much stronger field, with top seed times of 4:11 and 4:15. My plan was to try to stay with the 4:15 guy, and to stick like glue to any of the M35 guys who passed me, and try to drop them on the third lap. (If the 800 taught me anything, it’s that I’m all aerobic strength at this point, and have absolutely no anaerobic kick.)

The weather was better, but still hot: about 28 at the start, and very sunny. There was a big crowd out and pretty much all my club mates were there. I enjoyed the championship vibe: waiting in the call room, being escorted out to the start line by officials, looking across to the big stands and seeing them substantially filled (there might have been as many people out for this as for last summer’s elite NACAC championship, held in the same stadium).

We toed the line and were off. But right from the start, it was a weird race. I got elbowed, but then the guy who elbowed me apologized. Clearly a Canadian. The Guyanese winner of my 800 heat took the lead, but he was going really slow. Then another M40 runner (also with a 4:20 seed) took over, but also went pretty slow. I was shocked when our first lap time was called out: 76!

Stepping one one another’s toes en route to a ridiculously slow opening lap.

The next lap was also painfully slow. I was running in fourth position, behind three M40s: the 4:20 guy, the 4:15 guy, and the 4:11 guy. They all seemed content to go on at this super-slow pace, but I was getting worried. None of the M35s had passed me yet, but if I let things continue this slowly, they might easily follow the easy pace and then outkick me. I needed to go.

The exact moment I took the lead, at 800m to go. In the background, you can see Coach Paul going over to club mate Bill. Later I would learn he said, “They’re crawling. Adam will be lucky to finish under 4:30.”

With 800 to go, I went into the lead and picked up the pace. I could hear people behind me (I figured it was 4:11 and 4:15 guys) but I didn’t look back. I figure I ran about a 68 or 67. I led at the bell and kept the lead until 100m to go — when I was, of course, brutally outkicked by 4:11 guy and slightly outkicked by 4:15 guy (he got me by 0.2 seconds).

Getting outkicked. My expression is very “What is happening?”

Given our super slow opening laps, I figured we must have run 4:30 or so. But when I checked the results a few hours later, I saw I ran 4:20.32. Either the splits we got from the official were wrong, or we/I ran a really fast last 700. (I’m hoping it’s the latter, because that would give me some confidence in my kick.)

This time all my friends and club mates were full of praise. They were really happy at how I’d raced tactically and animated the race. Coach Paul was impressed with my last laps this time. Someone said, “And you were in the medals.”

Not sure what this post-race expression is, exactly…

Well, yes: I was third across the line, but first in my age category. It was a gold!

I had a nice warm-down jog with Jim, Jay, and a few people I’d met throughout the weekend. Then I had a nice chat with the other medalists in my heat, including the super-friendly Guyanese runner, Trevor, who is a policeman back home.

Then I walked home along Harbord. The caffeine fasting was over, so I got an iced latte at Sam James, still fully dressed up in my racing gear, national jersey and bib number on display.

I walked a few more blocks and I was home. The season was over.